By Brenda Flanagan
Piscataway blithely ignored Gov. Chris Christie’s July 6 executive order to shut down hundreds of Transportation Trust Funded projects, like rebuilding School Street. So New Jersey’s Department of Transportation shot Mayor Brian Wahler a letter stating, “…work subject to cessation under the Shutdown Order must remain ceased until further notice…” A defiant hizzoner wasn’t having it.
“They’re crazy! I’m ripping this up. It means nothing. Nothing! And that’s what I think about your cease and desist order, commissioner and governor! The bottom line is, they have no legal authority to stop any municipal projects in the state of New Jersey,” he said.
Wahler says he’s not the only Jersey mayor who’s disregarding the shutdown order — just the most vocal — and that Piscataway Township’s paying for 80 percent of the School Street project, anyway. He notes the town’s already gotten $300,000 in TTF money for this phase with the final $100,000 due when the project’s finished.
“If the state does not fork over the money for these projects, they could be charged with writing bad checks. We can have our local prosecutor, if we don’t get our money, issue a warrant,” he said.
New Jersey’s DOT says any town or contractor “…who works in defiance of the shutdown order assumes all associated risks.” The DOT asserts no shutdown projects are essential for health, safety or welfare. Tell that to the folks who live along School Street.
“We don’t have sidewalks. Our kids get off the bus, one of these days they’re going to end up getting run over and what? They’re going to be like, ‘Oh, sorry. You didn’t have sidewalks. Oh, well!'” said School Street resident Alex Neumann. For him, it’s a matter of safety.
According to Christie’s order, the state must “carefully ration” the remaining TTF dollars for high priority projects until politicians can resolve the gridlock over how to replenish the fund. The governor didn’t like Senate President Steve Sweeney’s latest proposal — allegedly a phased-in gas tax increase.
“It was ridiculous and I rejected it,” Christie said of the plan.
“Obviously I’m more than aggravated that he would say what he said. Because if you don’t like what we offer, offer something better. If it’s the Assembly plan, forget it,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney says he doesn’t blame Wahler for ripping up the DOT letter. And Wahler’s not worried about the state’s reaction.
“They do a Ralph Kramden ‘humunuh-humunuh’ about what the penalties are going to be for a town because they know there are no penalties,” Wahler said.
Wahler says if the TTF impasse isn’t resolved, and if the state fails to honor its funding agreements, they’ll go to court to get their money.